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Technology companies increasingly lobby the Canadian federal government.  Does this mean that technology companies are exerting more influence? What subjects do they lobby about? Which departments and people do they lobby?

Thetechlobby.ca is a project led by Sara Bannerman joined by a cross-country team of researchers examining various aspects of tech companies’ lobbying of the Canadian federal government.

Data

This project draws on records contained in the Canadian lobbying registry and a large corpus of government documents obtained via access to information requests. This information allows us to gain insight into the relationships between technology companies and federal government agencies and departments. Read more about our data here.

Our reports

Keep track of what is going on in tech lobbying in Canada through our company profiles and reports in the menu above.

Tech lobbying is on the rise in Canada…

Lobbying of the federal government by technology companies has increased dramatically in Canada. The following graph shows the number of lobbying communications registered by Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Netflix, Oracle, Sidewalk Labs, Twitter, and Uber. (Press the expansion box in the bottom right corner to see a larger view.)

Why?

There are several possible reasons why tech lobbying is on the rise in Canada.

1) Lobbying is on the rise across all sectors.

Lobbying has grown overall, particularly since 2015. The following graph compares the growth of lobbying overall (in orange) with the growth of lobbying of the top 20 media and communications companies operating in the Canadian market (blue bars). (Press the expansion box in the bottom right corner to see a larger view.)

This table shows that, to some extent, growing lobbying by tech companies and media and communication companies reflects an overall trend.

2) Elections matter

Many of the major dips in lobbying can be attributed to elections, when lobbying is typically paused or slowed. Following elections we see dramatic growth in lobbying as lobbyists move to influence or inform the new government.

3) There are a growing number of media and communications legislative and regulatory initiatives.

It’s no surprise that lobbying also corresponds to legislative initiatives.

Intellectual property underwent several reforms since 2008. The biggest was a major reform of the Copyright Act in 2012; this was preceded by massive lobbying. The 2018-2019 Parliamentary review of the Copyright Act also corresponded with increased lobbying.

Broadcast and telecommunications reform began with the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review, announced 2018. Lobbying on broadcasting and telecommunication, having been virtually absent prior to 2011, correspondingly increased.

Are GAFAM lobbyists out-lobbying Canadian communication, media & tech companies?

GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft) are staking out a growing lobbying presence in Canada. On some topics, international platforms like the GAFAM companies (blue in the graph below) are out-lobbying Canadian companies (red in the graph below) and civil society (green). The following graph examines lobbying about privacy and access to information, and shows that in 2018 GAFAM companies out-lobbied both Canadian communications companies and civil society. It also shows that in 2017, civil society put in the best showing.

Line graph showing the number of lobbying communications of 1) companies and business associations; 2) international platforms; 3) domestic platforms, media and telecom companies, and 4) civil society

How “cozy” are the relations between tech lobbyists and
bureaucrats?

The “coziness” of tech companies with policymakers varies widely across government departments. Examining government documents relating to lobbying communications between Big Tech and Canadian bureaucrats, we get a limited view of these relations. Take Netflix for example.

Canadian Heritage documents show that Netflix regularly requested and received meetings with high-level officials at Canadian Heritage (including the Minister, Deputy Minister, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, and Director General levels) at Canadian Heritage offices, a screening of Anne at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Prime Time conference, and at a hotel during a visit to Los Angeles.  The tone of emails between Netflix’s Stéphane Cardin and Deputy General Owen Ripley is somewhat casual, with Cardin thanking Ripley for a “friendly and truly productive meeting” and inquiring about the exact date of the release of the Legislative Review panel report.

The relationship between Netflix and CAVCO (a part of Canadian Heritage) also seems, from the documents, to be warm and familiar, with a casual tone. The relationship between the  CRTC and Netflix, on the other hand, could not be described as “cozy” during a time when Netflix and the CRTC were at odds on key policy issues.  The tone of correspondence, insofar as can be seen in the redacted documents, is formal, and includes a boilerplate warning that Netflix should “take the necessary steps to comply with the Lobbying Act” and that the meeting records would be subject to access to information law.

How effective is tech lobbying? How does it shape policy, government services, and government infrastructure?

Lobbying does not always equate to success.

For example in broadcasting, American media and communications companies focused significant lobbying on making the case that they should not be encompassed by the Canadian broadcast regulatory regime. Ultimately, their efforts failed; in 2023 the Online Streaming Act would require the CRTC to apply broadcast regulation to online streaming companies.

Other case studies that are part of our project will examine whether lobbying was successful in influencing government policy (including tax policy, election policy, artificial intelligence policy, copyright policy), infrastructure (such as the use of cloud services by government), and services (such as social security benefits).

Funding

Our research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, McMaster University, and the Canada Research Chairs program.